- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In the end IT WAS NOT SO MUCH A CELEBRATION AS A COLLECTIVE sigh of relief, a catharsis in champagne. These Red Wings, the best that money could buy, would have been judged a failure with anything short of the Stanley Cup. On a breezy June night in Detroit, after they manhandled the spirited, if overmatched, Carolina Hurricanes for the fourth time in five games, the chalice was rightfully theirs. "Thank God," said defenseman Chris Chelios, savoring his first Cup since 1986, when he was a second-year defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens. "We came through for our families, for the city. Thank God."
There were moments of childlike jubilation and insouciance, reminding you the Wings had emotions, too. There was Conn Smythe Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, the hardware in his hands, taking a bath of bubbly from winger Kirk Maltby as he attempted to answer a reporter's question over the throbbing beats of Eminem's Without Me. There was 36-year-old defenseman Steve Duchesne, tasting the title for the first time in his 16-year career, standing on a stool in front of his locker, head bobbing above the fray, a frothing bottle of Moët & Chandon in his left hand. ("I can't speak, I got no teeth, it's the Stanley Cup, it's fantastic," he finally mustered.) There was winger Luc Robitaille, another 16-year veteran graced with his first Cup, laughing as one of his sons stood on the top shelf of his locker and crowned his own head with the good stuff. "They say the hardest thing to do is stay on top," said Luc Robitaille, "and we did."
And there, of course, was Scotty Bowman, the greatest coach of his sport, perhaps of any, confirming what had been whispered for weeks: that he was retiring after becoming, at age 68, the oldest coach to win the Cup.
It would have sufficed if the Hurricanes, these gate-crashers at the summer fete of the Frozen North, had simply been happy to be here. Outgunned and outmatched, the Hurricanes looked like a last, trivial hurdle on the Motor City Machine's drive to the Cup. Surprisingly, it was Detroit that came out as flat as yesterday's Coke in Game 1. Carolina stole the opener by rallying twice from one-goal deficits, then dragging the Wings into overtime, where the Hurricanes had won six of seven postseason games. Fifty-eight seconds in, forechecking Carolina winger Jeff O'Neill grabbed the rebound of his own centering pass off Brendan Shanahan, then tossed it to the far side of the crease, where center Ron Francis redirected it past Dominik Hasek. Just like that, the 39-year-old Francis had his first goal in the finals in 10 years, and talk of a sweep was scuttled. "I cannot describe it," Hasek sighed afterward, shaking his head. "They dumped the puck in our zone, and all of a sudden Francis was open in front of the net. It was tic-tac-toe. It was so fast."
A SHIFT in momentum was the story of Game 2, though it was inspired by an unlikely source. Lidstrom is to defensemen as IKEA is to home furnishings: durable, functional, usually about as flamboyant as a desk lamp. Yet the laid-back Swede's reaction after potting the go-ahead goal with 5:08 remaining in the third period of Game 2--he roared, raised and pumped both arms, then kicked out his right leg, Rockette-style--announced Hockeytown's collective relief at finally deciphering the Hurricanes. On the Wings' seventh power play of the game, and 14th of the series (they had converted only once before), Lidstrom, newly stationed at the right point of Detroit's umbrella formation, skated toward the top of the face-off circle and slid the puck back to the blue line to Sergei Fedorov at mid-ice, then one-timed Fedorov's quick return pass over Arturs Irbe's catching glove. Then came the impromptu jig. "I guess my teammates were surprised I showed emotion," Lidstrom said the next day, smiling wryly. "It's the old Swedish stereotype: I don't get excited, don't show it as much as others."
Sure enough, 13 seconds later, when Lidstrom looped a gorgeous pass down the left wing to Kris Draper on a breakout and Draper buried the puck top-shelf for a clinching 3-1 lead, Lidstrom was reserved in celebration. Yet the defenseman's masterly game--he led all skaters with 34:38 of ice time, took no penalties and was +1, despite marking the Hurricanes' top line most of the night--was a performance worthy of glee.
TWO NIGHTS later another player made the difference for Detroit. Barely a dozen hours after he had roofed a backhander beneath the crossbar at 14:47 of triple overtime--ending a match that, to the Carolina fans, must have seemed longer than the March to the Sea--Igor Larionov sat in the basement of Raleigh's Entertainment and Sports Arena, relishing the role of raconteur. At 41 the league's eldest statesman, Larionov held forth with memories of his first trip to the U.S., during the 1981 Canada Cup ("I was dreaming to play in National Hockey League, but that time was cold war and invasion to Afghanistan, so it wasn't possible"); with tales of his eight years playing for the Russian National Team ("If you step on a sliver on the ice, Coach make notes that you have been drunk last night, so you have to be careful when you skate"); even with observations on diet ("No red meat, but I like to drink wine. Every night two glasses"). No checker, Larionov, but not a bad Chekhov impersonator.
Earlier, Larionov had completed his first multigoal game of the playoffs by skating in on Irbe's right for a two-on-one with hustling defenseman Mathieu Dandenault, then popping Irbe up top to end the third-longest game in finals history. The shock was doubly painful for the Hurricanes, who had led through most of the third period. Twenty-one-year-old center Josef Vasicek had put Carolina up 1-0 at 14:49 of the first with a masterpiece goal. Taking a tip off the boards inside the blue line from winger Martin Gelinas, Vasicek stick-handled through the left circle, slipped the puck in between defenseman Duchesne's legs, then recovered it and, with Fedorov draped over him, wristed the puck short-side under Hasek's glove. Larionov tied the game early in the second by redirecting a Brett Hull feed, but the second O'Neill breakaway in three games put the Hurricanes ahead 2-1 midway through the third.
With 1:14 left in the third, Bowman decided he wouldn't go down without emptying his clip and put a breathtaking lineup of six future Hall of Famers onto the ice for a draw in the Carolina zone. Electing to leave Hasek in, Bowman sent out Shanahan, Steve Yzerman, Hull, Lidstrom and Fedorov (a fourth forward playing the point). Yzerman won the drop from Rod Brind'Amour, a notorious bender of face-off rules, by pushing him off the dot with his hip, then flipping the puck to Fedorov at the right point. Fedorov wheeled it the length of the blue line to Lidstrom, who popped a wrister from the point. Lurking in the slot was Hull, who lifted his stick waist high and clipped the puck with the blade heel, rifling a deflection to the bottom corner and ensuring overtime. "They were doing a great job forechecking and bottling us up," said Hull, "so I think it was, I don't know, dumb luck."
After Hull's equalizer the only dumb luck was that the deflated Hurricanes stuck around until after midnight. Larionov's game-winner was preceded by hit posts from Lidstrom and Frederick Olausson, a shanked look at an open net by Shanahan and a behind-the-back save on an Yzerman one-timer. In the end the crafty Larionov, relegated to fourth-line duty or injured for much of the postseason, was the difference. Another drama for the storyteller.